With England’s international opener against the All Blacks just a few days away I thought I’d take a look at my preferred starting XV to see if others agree;
Is there anyone else? Whilst Foden and Goode may be excellent players in their own right, Brown has arguably been England’s stand-out player over the last 12 months and thoroughly deserves to pick up where he left off. In big games like this you need your best players to perform, and none have looked quite as capable as Brown when he’s fully firing.
It seemed only a matter of time until Rokoduguni received his first England cap after the last 18 months at Bath. Whilst a game against the All Blacks is quite literally a case of throwing him in at the deep end, he needs as much international game time as possible between now and next year’s World Cup. There’s no doubting this will be an ideal opportunity to see how he performs against World Class opposition.
It was extremely tempting to select Joseph alongside his Bath teammate Kyle Eastmond given the pairs form so far this season, but against the All Blacks it may have been a risk too far. Joseph gets the nod meaning Barritt can play at his prefered position of inside centre where he can lead the defensive line and allow Joseph the freedom to play his more expansive game.
Barritt may not be everyone’s favourite player, but there’s no doubting that he’s a solid option for England and provides a lot more balance than Kyle Eastmond would. Fans are also quick to forget that he was the man who started in the 12 shirt when England beat the All Blacks two years ago. A Barritt-Joseph midfield combo provides a nice balance to the team and gives Joseph a bit more freedom to play.
The wings are a serious area of concern at the moment for England fans with a host of players failing to live up to expectation so far. Yarde has looked the most consistent so far despite an indifferent start to the season so deserves a chance to start once more. Yarde looks dangerous in attack so now just needs to develop the defensive side of his game, particularly in terms of positional awareness.
Farrell has had a slow start to the season with injury hampering his game time, however in such a difficult game it makes sense to try to keep the side as consistent as possible given the changes in other positions. Farrell may lack some of the flair of Ford but makes up for it with his robustness in defence, ensuring the All Blacks won’t be seeing the 10 channel as an area they can exploit.
Alongside Harlequins teammate Brown, Care has been one of England’s top performers over the last 18 months. His form may have been slightly erratic of late but for me he has still done enough to justify his reinclusion. His experience will be key given the number of inexperienced players in the starting line-up, whilst his quick tap game will help keep the All Blacks on their toes.
Given England’s front row injury issues it was pretty much inevitable Marler starts. He seems to have adapted well to the new scrummaging laws and looks comfortable playing at the very top level. His promotion to captaincy at Quins may not have quite gone to plan but the reduced responsibility for England may help ease the burden on him and allow him to play to the best of his ability.
It seems Hartley has now well and truly established himself as England’s first choice hooker barring any injuries. His experience will be absolutely key against the All Blacks, whilst his experience of captaining Saints will come in handy when trying to get players focussed. His club partnership with Courtney Lawes will also be key to England’s success at the line-out.
Given Dan Cole’s injury, Wilson is England’s only realistic option at tighthead for the All Blacks game. That’s not to say he isn’t deserving of a start, with his recent form meaning he would have been challenging Cole for a starting spot even if he was fit. I just hope Wilson isn’t forced to play too deep into the second half as it needs to remain fit for the other games throughout November.
Joe Launchbury’s injury and the birth of Dave Attwood’s child mean George Kruis could be set for his first ever start in an England shirt. I went with the uncapped Saracens man as he seems like the ideal replacement for Launchbury who worked so well with Lawes. His abrasive play and tireless work ethic will be necessary when coming up against the All Blacks second row.
The Saints man is now firmly established in the England second row and is thoroughly deserving of a place of Saturday’s game. Lawes has combined his impressive physical prowess with rugby intelligence to become one of the best second rows in world rugby. His ability to lead the line-out with teammate Dylan Hartley means he will be integral to England’s hopes.
James Haskell may have been one of the best players in the Premiership so far this season, but for me England should stick with their established back row combination in what will be the toughest test of the year. Wood epitomises everything Stuart Lancaster is aiming for, a hard working player who goes about his business quietly and effectively.
7.Chris Robshaw ©
Every time England play their are fresh calls for Robshaw to be dropped in favour of a ‘traditional 7’. Personally I don’t buy into this, Robshaw has been one of England’s most consistent players under Lancaster and does an incredible amount of unheralded work. He creates a perfect balance in the back row and leads his side by example. He is also one of England’s most experienced captains of all time now.
Vunipola and Morgan look set to battle it out for the number 8 shirt over the next few years, but for me Vunipola edges it at the moment. He has a slightly more dynamic ball playing game which could be the difference this weekend. He has also been working on his fitness which means he will hopefully be able to last a full 80 is required to.
The Bench; 16. Rob Webber, 17. Matt Mullan, 18. Kieran Brookes. 19. Graham Kitchener, 20. James Haskell, 21. Ben Youngs, 22. George Ford 23. Anthony Watson
Who would you select in the starting XV for England?